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Rockland man recognized for saving neighbor’s wife

Photo courtesy of Robert Pernaski Bruce Racine of Rockland was presented the Distinguished Citizen Award by First Lieutenant Don Horn, Michigan State Police Wakefield Post Commander, for his saving the life of his 85-year-old neighbor, who was trapped her burning home on June 3.

ROCKLAND — An elderly Rockland man was recognized by the Michigan State Police on Wednesday, Sept. 9, for saving his elderly neighbor from her burning home on June 3.

Bruce Racine, 72, was presented with the Distinguished Citizen Award for carrying 85-year-old Helen (Carryl) Miilu from her home, which was completely engulfed in flames and smoke at the time. It is the highest award that can be bestowed on a civilian.

The fire was reported at approximately 4:20 a.m. on Tuesday, June 3, said retired Detective 1st Lt. Robert Pernaski of the Special Investigative Section, Eighth District (Upper Peninsula) of the Michigan State Police.

Sylivia Lehto, the upstairs resident and Miilu’s sister, was able to escape the burning residence via an external stairwell, but she was unable to evacuate Ms. Miilu, the downstairs resident. Lehto then went across the street and asked Racine for help.

Racine immediately asked his wife to call 911, then went to the burning house to search for Miilu. Heavy smoke prevented him from entering the house through the front door, and Racine then proceeded to the side of the house, where he broke out Miilu’s bedroom window and established communication with her, the request states.

Later, Racine said he knew he was risking a backdraft by breaking the window, but felt it necessary in able to locate and communicate with Miilu.

Racine then instructed Miilu to get down on the floor, beneath the smoke, and crawl to the front door, if she could do so safely. She acknowledged that she understood Racine’s request, and a short time later, she appeared at the front door.

Racine forced the door open, picked Miilu up, carried her out of the home, and across the street to safety at his residence, where a short time later, EMS arrived and Miilu was transported to Ontonagon Memorial Hospital. She was later transferred to a more advanced hospital in Duluth, the report states.

The Request for Citation was submitted on June 15, and since then, Miilu has made a complete recovery, said Pernaski, who submitted the request.

“She’s very much alive and well,” said Pernaski.

Rescuing Miilu was no small feat, he said. The house was completely engulfed in flames and heavy smoke, and although Miilu’s residence was on the first floor, she was trapped, but Racine was not sure where.

“The hottest part of the fire was around her bedroom where she was sleeping,” Pernaski said, “and she got trapped in that bedroom.”

Pernaski said the damage to the home was so extensive that a cause of the fire could not be positively be determined.

In addition to the damage, he said, part of the home was excavated, the entire top floor was lost, he said, which fell into the first floor. The fire investigator with whom Pernaski spoke said, however, it is suspected that the fire was electrical in nature.

A private fire investigator was retained by the homeowners, but he also was unable to determine a definite cause, but he, too, suspected it began with an electrical issue, but the cause was recorded as undetermined.

Rockland Fire Department Chief Jerry Hoffman told Racine that the department dumped approximately 200,000 gallons of water on the fire, “it was really a bad one.”

MSP Fire Investigator, Special Sgt. Dale Hilyar, and Fire Chief Hoffman both concurred during the fire investigation that had Racine not rescued Miilu, she could not have survived.

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